Things said online

I was recently interviewed by a PhD student about my Internet usage habits, which got me thinking about how I started blogging, and before that how I built my own website, and why, and how that's influenced my interactions on/with the web today.

Just a few quotes/links for my own reference:

1. A quote from dooce in a recent New York Times Magazine story "Queen of the Mommy Bloggers" (which was published after I was interviewed):
"... she [dooce] made a promise to her family. “I will never write anything that I wouldn’t say to your face, with 50 people watching,” is how she describes the agreement. And that has been her rule ever since."
I've often phrased my own rule of thumb as being able to live with what you write, by which of course I meant being able to live with what you publish. I like the more specific wording of dooce's, though.

2. A couple of weeks ago when Facebook Places was rolled out to Singapore users, a friend wondered out loud on Twitter about why he should bother with Foursquare anymore. The habit of logging one's geographical location notwithstanding, I noted to him that I wouldn't want all my Facebook friends knowing where I am.

I forgot to add that I had cribbed Lucian's Foursquare policy: "You need to be someone I'd walk up to and say hi." Which I've often rephrased as: "If I'm in a bar or cafe, it'd be cool if you walked up, said hi and maybe even asked to join me (and whoever I'm with)."

3. Last week I downloaded and started using --- quite excitedly --- Momento, an iPhone app that imports your social media feeds and allows you to maintain private journal entries (with images) as well. The best part is that the entire database can be exported in .txt format, so you're not locked into anyone's proprietary system (enough of that, Facebook).

I used to journal by hand in pre-Internet days, and even off and on after blogging became easy. Momento seems like a good way to mesh the private and the public, without having to duplicate from one to the other. Plus it's good to have a backup of all this stuff in .txt format, for times when one might be stuck behind a firewall (or cut off from the Internet by an unrelenting government).

4. This week I started experimenting with Greplin, a search engine for stuff in the cloud --- social media, Google Documents, Gmail, etc. TechCrunch sold me on it, and at least Greplin's privacy policies are comprehensible to the layperson (for now).

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Reading week

Or in my case: writing week.

I'm giving myself the next 10 days or so to work on a book proposal that I need to finish by mid-March, in order to meet a grant application deadline. Don't ask me what the book proposal's about --- that's what the next 10 days are for, to figure things out.

I suspect I'll have to save all my writing energies for the proposal (which needs to include at least ten pages of the book manuscript), so posting here will be scarcer than usual for a bit.



In which I wax lyrical about canned sardines

Here's a couple of paragraphs on the place of canned food in my childhood diet, which I wrote a few months ago but wound up not using in that particular blog post:
Talking about canned/tinned foods, yesterday Stellou was surprised to learn that my mother would sometimes serve baked beans from a can alongside other Asian dishes and rice for dinner at home. That made me think of all the Western canned food I grew up eating at dinner:
  • Baked beans
  • Corned beef
  • Dinty Moore beef stew
  • Cocktail sausages
But not Ayam brand canned sardines in tomato sauce, although you'll find them at Chinese economy rice stalls in Singapore, ladled onto piping hot white rice if you ask for it. No, at home, I grew up eating canned sardines with sliced white bread, sandwich-style.
When I was studying in the US, one of the small happy discoveries I made at the Asian supermarkets along Chicago's Argyle Street (aka Vietnam-town) was that they sold those canned sardines, Ayam brand and perhaps others. The others didn't matter: Ayam brand was what I grew up with, and Ayam brand is what I still slap between slices of white bread, occasionally --- unheated and unseasoned with oil, onions or anything that might mask the flavour of the unabashedly pungent sardines bathed in sweet, gloopy tomato sauce.

(I do not eat these canned sardines around anyone who isn't family. And even around family, I rinse the can thoroughly before tossing it into the trash.)

In London, I haven't seen a single can of Ayam brand sardines, in any kind of sauce.

The brands they have here don't quite measure up: John West is a passable substitute in terms of flavour, but less than generous in terms of tomato sauce. Today I tried Brunswick --- tomato sauce flavour fail, and the fish were oilier and much skinnier than I'm used to.

If London can sustain so many restaurants selling Singaporean/Malaysian food, there must be a place selling Ayam brand sardines. I just need to find it.

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Not tonight, dear, I've got to read

This is what I wrote in a Facebook-mail to a friend tonight:
I'm quite lucky because people in my course are very interested in cultural theory as well as related things like art, media, sociology, etc. Quite novel to be with a bunch of people who are fun to be with, but who also have no qualms about saying, "Yeah, I think I'm just going to stay home and read this weekend." Theory geeks, heh.
Another description of my course, which I mentioned on the phone last weekend, in trying to explain to my aunt why I was so damn busy:
It's a lot of reading, and it's the kind of reading where there's no shortcuts or Cliff's Notes. You just have to sit there and slog through it.
I mean, there's the Routledge Critical Guides series and Oxford University Press's Very Short Introductions series, just to get you off and running if need be. But if you want to get to get to the heart of what certain theorists were on about (see for example, Derrida or Deleuze), I think you have to get in there and wrestle with the ideas yourself.

That reminds of cultural studies scholar Paul Bowman's recent retort to an opinion piece in the Guardian. Bowman points out (among other salient points) that while the Guardian piece chides Judith Butler and other theorists for being obscurantist in their writing:
Butler’s work is clear. Crystal. Provided only that you have the disciplinary training to read high-level cultural theory. If you don’t have this disciplinary formation, then you can hardly expect to dip into a paragraph here and there of cutting edge theoretical work and expect it to be immediately transparent.
Not that everyone has to start reading cultural theory. I'm just saying that it takes time and high levels of attention/energy if you're going to start, and I'm glad I have a bunch of like-minded folks to slog through it with.

Now if you'll excuse me, after spending most of tomorrow at school, I'm going to spend the rest of the week --- and probably the weekend as well --- staying at home to read. And work and write. But mostly read.



Welcoming the Year of the Rabbit

Talk about timing:

On Wednesday, the eve of the Lunar New Year (除夕, chu xi), my reading for class was a chapter by Arjun Appadurai, in which he discusses what he calls "the global production of locality", i.e. how through technology, the media and diasporic flows, the identity of a locality or particular place is communicated, shaped and shared on a global scale, and some of its resonant implications for nation-states and modern society.

Earlier in the week, I'd just seen Civic Life: Tiong Bahru, a fictional short film by UK filmmakers Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy, set in and inspired by the people they met in that neighbourhood in Singapore. In other words: a non-Singaporean take on Tiong Bahru residents' take on their neighbourhood and place in Singapore.

And then it was the Lunar/Chinese New Year. In lieu of reunion dinner on 除夕, I met some friends for a very British-style celebration: drinks at a pub, followed by a late dinner of Lebanese food (and more wine). On the first day of the New Year, for dinner I made a big pot of soya sauce chicken, which isn't remotely a traditional Chinese New Year food, but has been one of my favourite foods from my mother's repertoire since I was a child (also one of the easiest to make). On the second day of the New Year, I had to go to school, so I threw on a red cardigan over the greys and blacks that populate my winter wardrobe (wearing red is for luck, traditional during the New Year; sombre colours are for funerals and unlucky days).

Aspects of Chinese-New-Year-in-Singapore which I have not "reproduced":
  • dong-dong-chang music that can drive you batty (although I might get a dose of it, if I drop in at the Trafalgar Square/Shaftesbury Avenue festivities tomorrow)
  • mahjong sessions
  • kibitzing for hours while snacking on bak kwa, pineapple tarts and mandarin oranges
  • getting a sore throat by the third day from eating too much "heaty" food
None of which have that much to do with Appadurai's observations (which are more about the tensions inherent in the "global production of locality"), but I'm toying with his concept of framing and then reproducing an idea-of-a-place-in-time, and reminding myself about traditions and authenticity and why we do the things we do and what we're arguing about when we argue about it.

(Not that I've been party to any arguments recently.)

Tomorrow I'm going to 拜年 (bai nian, pay a New Year visit) to a close friend, with oranges and red wine. Bringing oranges is traditional. Bringing red wine is not.

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